Preaching on Stewardship- January 26, 2020- The Third Sunday after Epiphany

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This week’s nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for The Third Sunday after Epiphany are as follows:

Sunday January 26, 2020: Revised Common Lectionary- The Third Sunday after Epiphany (Year A), Lectionary 3
First Lesson: Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 4-9
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Gospel of Matthew 4:12-23

As we often do, let’s take the texts in order as they continue to offer Epiphany moments- revelations about God, God’s love, and mission for the sake of the world to the world.

The prophet Isaiah kicks us off with a passage often included as a Christmas Eve scripture reading. Isaiah writes, “The people who walked in darkness  have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian” (Isaiah 9:2-4, NRSV).

Light has shined, an Epiphany theme for sure. Within a stewardship lens these few verses are rich with explanations of God’s work for God’s beloved. “You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy… you have broken…” The people “rejoice before” God as with “joy at the harvest.” Here’s a literal joyful response in scripture. For all that God does for us, how do we respond? Joy and gratitude? Fear? Denial? Let’s hope it’s with joy and gratitude. 

Psalm 27 is also all about light. It begins with two of the most famous questions in the Psalms. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1, NRSV). God is with us. God’s light shines for us, in us, around us, and through us. With God’s presence, fear and death do not have the final say.

Of course this is just the beginning of what the psalmist has to say on this matter. Later on the psalmist sings, “Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! ‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!” (Psalm 27:6-9, NRSV) We plea to God to be gracious, and we respond to God’s gracious and salvific acts for us “with shouts of joy.” There might be some further stewardship wisdom here to dig into.

Turning to the second lesson, Paul offers some wisdom about the cross and what it means for our lives as stewards and disciples. He writes, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18, NRSV).

It is the cross that is at the center of our lives as stewards and disciples. Though this might seem like foolishness, it is an act of God turning the foolish and horrid of this world into the beautiful. God using an instrument of death and turning it into a sign of life. So we each like Paul proclaim the way of the cross, and we respond to God’s work through and out of it with joy and gratitude. Turning the ultimate symbol of humiliation and death into a symbol of life and hope, something only God could ever do.

At the heart of this week’s lectionary texts though sits the gospel lesson from Matthew 4. Within it there’s the call of making disciples and “fishers of men” or “fishers of people.” There’s an act of laying down one’s fishnets, and the beginning of Jesus’ claims to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” taking up the mantle from John the Baptist who at this point has been arrested. It’s Jesus’ time now to teach and lead.

Our story begins, “Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’” (Matthew 4:12-17, NRSV). As the story begins, Matthew is referencing the Isaiah passage that is our first lesson. The Epiphany theme, “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light…”

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Catching a moment of quiet after worship in the sun filled sanctuary of St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Fremont, Nebraska. As I preached on coming and seeing, and mentioned the Beloved Community, one disciple during the sermon got up and went over and introduced himself to a visitor this week. He wanted to know their name. It was beautiful, and an example of walking together and sharing Christ’s light in all that we do. And frankly, I could have sat down there and then, as that more or less made my sermon’s intended point with far fewer words.

It’s interesting that Jesus we read in this story “made his home in Capernaum.” Because when we think about Jesus’ three years of ministry, you don’t really think about Jesus being stationary. But perhaps he was for a time in Capernaum. And if so, what might that have meant for building relationships with his disciples? What kind of teaching might have been done? Healing? Thinking about your own ministry contexts, in the places your churches are planted, what kind of teaching, ministry, healing, and peace and justice work has happened because of your presence there? And what new things might God be calling you to do or be a part of? What kind of needs in your greater community are calling for your attention? And how might the work of the Gospel lead you to engage? 

Now back to the story. Jesus walks by the sea, and invites the soon to be disciples to drop their nets and follow him. “As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-22, NRSV).

How do we invite people to come and see? How do we invite people to follow? And how do we continue in the work of Jesus who as the story this week ends, “went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23, NRSV).

There’s lots of good stuff in the readings this week. Perhaps some of these stewardship observations and nuggets may catch your eye and imagination. And in whatever way you feel led and called this week, may God be with you and guide you to share the Good News about God with us, and God’s call, love, and promises for us.

Sunday January 26, 2020: Narrative Lectionary- The Third Sunday after Epiphany– Week Twenty One (Year 2)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Jesus and the Gerasene Demoniac 
Focus Passages: Mark 5:1-20
Accompanying Psalm: Psalm 89:1-4

The narrative moves from parables to one of the more dramatic stories of healing and God’s work being done in the present by Jesus. The people who witness this surely would have wondered what was going on. They might well have been afraid. From a stewardship perspective, what might we make of God showing up in such dramatic ways in our world? How might we respond? How might we share and tell this story, and point to the love and story that they are part of? 

Now as for this week’s story of Jesus and the Gerasene Demoniac, I’m going to bold the parts that really stand out at me when I think about stewardship. Let’s begin.

“They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’ For he had said to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’ He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us into the swine; let us enter them.’ So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned in the lake” (Mark 5:1-13, NRSV).

What catches my eye in reading this story again this week is the question that Legion poses. “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” This Legion, a man filled with unclean spirits recognizes Jesus and perhaps most clearly so far in the Gospel of Mark testifies to who this Jesus is. But besides the who which is very interesting, I wonder, if this question might be an opportunity for all of us to confront this question. Perhaps ask it ourselves? What does Jesus have to do with us? And flipped around, what do we have to do with Jesus? The answers to these questions might get to relationship, call, discipleship, stewardship, purpose, promise, etc.

But the story isn’t done. “The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed” (Mark 5:14-20, NRSV).

Our human nature response might be like the people who witnessed this act. One of fear and terror. One of confusion and concern. So much so, perhaps we might ask God not to change anything, or worse yet, to ask God to leave us alone. But the man who is freed has a different response.

He wants to go with Jesus, but Jesus has another plan. Instead of being a disciple with Jesus, he wants this man to be a missionary and story teller. Someone who will tell of what God has done for him. He does just this. And he lives out his joyful response by proclaiming all that Jesus had done, amazing everyone. His testimony and witness, his discipleship and stewardship, point to God’s presence. They point to God in Christ showing up, showing mercy, and bringing life and salvation. May we be so bold to provide such witness with joy in all that we are and all that we do.

The accompanying psalm, from Psalm 89 provides words that might be appropriate for the man who has been freed. Perhaps they might give words to our joyful response, when we like the man in the story, are freed up to follow and serve Christ. When we’re freed up from our fears, worries, and scarcity of life to lean into God’s abundance which God invites us all into.

The psalmist sings, “I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. I declare that your steadfast love is established for ever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens. You said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: ‘I will establish your descendants for ever, and build your throne for all generations'” (Psalm 89:1-4, NRSV).

Whichever story captivates you, whatever draws your imagination and focus, may God open your eyes and senses to God’s presence and promises for us this week, and may you share and point to them in your preaching and proclamation this week.

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